Turkey will launch a military operation in a Kurdish-controlled region of Syria, president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned, a move that would escalate tensions between Ankara and the U.S., Financial Times reports.
Speaking on Sunday, Mr Erdogan said Turkey would enter north east Syria to take over areas controlled by Kurdish-dominated militias backed by the U.S. “So far, we have been patient. But that patience has its limits,” he said.
Mr Erdogan said Turkey had notified both the U.S. and Russia — a key backer of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad — of its plans.
Turkey has long threatened to invade the part of Syria adjacent to its southern border, arguing that the forces that control the region pose a threat to national security. The Syrian Democratic Forces is largely made up of Kurdish militiaswith close links to the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), an armed insurgent group that has been engaged in a 35-year conflict against the Turkish state.
The SDF has been armed and trained by the American-led international coalition fighting Isis, the Islamist militant group, who earlier this year lost their last piece of territory close to the Syria-Iraq border. Washington has backed Syrian Kurdish forces as key allies in the battle against Isis, and any Turkish offensive against them risks triggering a U.S. backlash.
A Turkish operation had seemed imminent in December after U.S. president Donald Trump made the surprise announcement that all U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Syria, paving the way for Ankara to launch a cross-border incursion. The U.S. later back-peddled on that plan, partly owing to accusations of betrayal from Syrian Kurds.
U.S. and Turkish officials subsequently began discussing plans for a “safe zone” that would see Kurdish forces withdraw from an area along the border with Turkey. But the discussions, though continuing, have failed to make progress.